Violet has always been a bit of a wallflower. She's freakishly tall and thin (six one as a high school senior, wearing size two jeans, extra long), which makes it hard not to be noticed sometimes. She not popular, though she has two best friends, Julie and Roger. A secret part of her does crave popularity. She sometimes wishes that she could be part of the trio of popular girls at Chapel Hill High, called the BK (for Bee's Knees). Even though she knows that the BK are inane and false, she craves their lives, their "glossy lips and breathy voices and fluttering eyelashes", and their boyfriends.
Then one day a high-powered modeling agent, Angela Blythe, spots Violet, and thinks that Violet could be "IT ... the next Kate Moss--but you know, taller and without the cocaine problem". Angela whisks Violet away to New York for a makeover and auditions. And before you can say "early graduation", Violet is an up and coming fashion model.
Of course life as a fashion model turns out not to be quite so glamorous as Violet expects. She incurs sabotage from jealous rivals, and becomes the target of tabloid news stories. She's exposed to alcohol and drugs, and finds people anxious to use her celebrity for their own gain. Even the BK befriend her, in the hopes of obtaining their own modeling contracts.
Things get a bit dicey for Violet for a while. This book is probably not appropriate for younger teens - it's definitely a high school book, and a window into the New York City celebrity party scene, drugs and all. But Violet maintains her own moral center, and learns to find her way out of trouble.
There's something universal about makeover fantasies. In high school I used to dream about moving away for a year, and coming back somehow transformed into someone more glamorous, more noticeable, more popular. This theme is a staple of high school romantic comedies (Grease, She's All That, The Princess Diaries, Clueless, Drive Me Crazy, The Breakfast Club, and so on), and I continue to enjoy them all, even though I'm more than 20 years out of high school. I think it's that innate desire to feel special, combined with the classic high school definition: popular = special.
Violet lives out this reinvention fantasy. And although she gets caught up in it for a while, she maintains enough inner doubt for readers to be able to relate to her. Here are her thoughts during her initial makeover haircut:
"Still worried, I sit in my chair and say nothing. I do this, I acknowledge, because I have never once in my life looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. Not once. So if that happens again, it won't be a big disappointment." (Chapter 7)
Anyone else out there able to relate to that? Here's what she thinks immediately after the haircut:
""Is beautiful, yes?" he says.
"It is," I whisper. And I mean it. But it's also the scariest thing I've ever done. Because the way my hair looks now, it seems like I might attract attention. I've spent my whole life trying not to be stared at or pointed at, and this hair is for a girl who craves the spotlight. I have a feeling this change isn't the first one that's going to make me feel both elated and terrified. But it's done, and I have to figure out how to handle it." (Chapter 7)
Violet on the Runway is escapist fare that I think will appeal to high school girls (especially those who like to read glossy magazines). I do have a few quibbles over certain plot points (which I won't get into, because I hate writing spoilers). And I had a bit of trouble with the switches back and forth between New York and Chapel Hill High - I felt that they took away from the coherence of the story. But overall, I found Violet on the Runway to be highly entertaining and to touch on valuable messages about self-respect and friendship. The sequel, Violet by Design, is scheduled for publication in early March.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.